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Google has officially begun rolling out the intrusive mobile interstitial penalty yesterday after months of warnings the penalty would be launched on January 10, 2017.

The roll-out was confirmed by both John Mueller and Gary Illyes yesterday.

The penalty is specifically designed to target intrusive interstitials that pop-up immediately after landing on a page from a Google mobile search result. However, it does not affect pages with delayed interstitials triggered by a click or action on the website.

Google specifies this means “pages where content is not easily accessible to a user on the transition from the mobile search results may not rank as highly.”

Google also detailed three specific types of interstitials it deems as problematic:

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  • showing a popup that covers the main content, either immediately after the user navigates to a page from the search results or while they are looking through the page.
  • displaying a standalone interstitial that the user has to dismiss before accessing the main content.
  • using a layout where the above-the-fold portion of the page appears similar to a standalone interstitial, but the original content has been inlined underneath the fold.

The company also detailed three types of interstitials that would not be affected by the penalty, so long as they are “used responsibly”:

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  • Interstitials that appear to be in response to a legal obligation, such as for cookie usage or for age verification.
  • Login dialogs on sites where content is not publicly indexable. For example, this would include private content such as email or unindexable content that is behind a paywall.
  • Banners that use a reasonable amount of screen space and are easily dismissible. The app install banners provided by Safari and Chrome are examples of banners that use a reasonable amount of screen space.
Source: Robert Scoble / Flickr

Source: Robert Scoble / Flickr

Were you punished by Google’s Penguin algorithm? If you have, there is a good chance you’ve been waiting a year or longer to recover after taking all the necessary steps to have your site reconsidered.

Thankfully, as part of the latest update to Penguin, you won’t have to wait much longer to see if you’ve bounced back. Google’s Gary Illyes confirmed, via Twitter, that Penguin recoveries have already begun rolling out and will be finished within the coming days.

This means that sites that were penalized should start to show improvements within the next week. What it doesn’t mean, however, is that you can expect to return to your same former glory in the search engines.

Removing the penalty still leaves you without the bad links likely driving much of your high ranking, so you can’t expect them to help boost you back up to high spots in the search results. On the other hand, if you’ve taken the time while you’ve been penalized to build new, better links and further optimize your site, you may come out ahead once all the recoveries are finished rolling out.

Google Logo

Has your brand or business been using large pop-ups to gather email addresses or asking people to like you on Facebook? You might be in trouble with Google if you don’t change your site soon.

Google has announced it will begin to penalize sites with intrusive pop-ups or interstitials starting January 10, 2017.

As Google defines them, intrusive interstitials are pop-ups that block the main content on a screen until an action is taken. While this can be an effective way to ask visitors to take action, most people find these annoying because it serves as a roadblock before they are able to see what they came to see.

“Pages that show intrusive interstitials provide a poorer experience to users than other pages where content is immediately accessible. This can be problematic on mobile devices where screens are often smaller.”

For the moment, Google is just singling out interstitials on mobile devices and devaluing search rankings for mobile results. It is unclear if they intend to extend this to desktop in the future.

IntrusiveInterstitials

The change to Google’s algorithms specifically targets pages with interstitials that either pop-up immediately when a person lands on a page or is triggered by scrolling down the page. It was also devalue sites which use oversized above-the-fold content to look like an interstitial.

There are some exemptions to Google’s interstitial rules. Pages with “reasonable” banners that don’t take up excessive amounts of screen space will be considered acceptable. Also, sites that are required to use interstitials for legal reasons – such as cookie usage or age verification – will be exempt from ranking devaluation.

The latest change shouldn’t come as a complete surprise. Google has already cracked down on one form of interstitials in the past by devaluing pages with interstitials that prompt users to install a mobile app. According to the company’s announcement, their work into that algorithm change showed the company they also needed to tackle interstitials as a whole.

As with all algorithm changes, the new guidelines for interstitials don’t automatically mean death for your online traffic if you are using interstitials. If your site is still highly relevant for a search, it may still appear in the top results. However, it is usually better to err on the side of caution with Google, rather than face the risk of a penalty.

Yesterday, we reported that a significant number of websites had been hit with Google penalties over the weekend for “unnatural outbound links.” Since then, Google has clarified that the manual penalties issued this weekend were specifically related to bloggers giving links to websites in exchange for free products or services.

Google had issued a warning a few weeks ago urging bloggers to disclose free product reviews and nofollow links in their blog posts related to these products. Now, they’ve taken action against sites who ignored the warning.

In the warning, Google told bloggers to “nofollow the link, if you decide to link to the company’s site, the company’s social media accounts, an online merchant’s page that sells the product, a review service’s page featuring reviews of the product or the company’s mobile app in an app store.”

As Barry Schwartz reports, John Mueller from Google explained the penalties in several threads on the Google support forums, telling people to look at the warning Google published recently named Best practices for bloggers reviewing free products they receive from companies. In one comment, Mueller went on to say:

In particular, if a post was made because of a free product (or free service, or just paid, etc.), then any links placed there because of that need to have a rel=nofollow attached to them. This includes links to the product itself, any sales pages (such as on Amazon), affiliate links, social media profiles, etc. that are associated with that post. Additionally, I imagine your readers would also appreciate it if those posts were labeled appropriately. It’s fine to keep these kinds of posts up, sometimes there’s a lot of useful information in them! However, the links in those posts specifically need to be modified so that they don’t pass PageRank (by using the rel=nofollow).

Once these links are cleaned up appropriately, feel free to submit a reconsideration request, so that the webspam team can double-check and remove the manual action.

If you are a blogger or company who has participated in an agreement to give free products to reviews, be sure to check your Google Search Console messages to see if you’ve been hit by the latest round of manual penalties.

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Over the weekend, Google sent out a new wave of penalties, this time smacking down sites for “unnatural outbound links.” The majority of websites are safe from the latest round of manual penalties, but you may be in trouble if you’ve been attempting to manipulate the Google search results.

As Barry Schwartz has noted, this specific penalty appears to be taking the shape of Google deciding not to trust any links on the entire site.

Webmasters who received these penalties were sent emails which read:

If you see this message on the Manual Actions page, it means that Google has detected a pattern of unnatural artificial, deceptive, or manipulative outbound links. Buying links or participating in link schemes in order to manipulate PageRank is a violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.

As a result, Google has applied a manual spam action to the affected portions of your site. Actions that affect your whole site are listed under Site-wide matches. Actions that affect only part of your site and/or some incoming links to your site are listed under Partial matches.

Below, you can also see a copy of the message webmasters are receiving in Google Search Console about these penalties:

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To make sure your site is safe, be sure to log into your Google Search Console account and check your all messages box. If you see this notification about an outbound link penalty, you can find out how to fix it and submit a reconsideration request here.

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Google has issued a stern warning against those who repeatedly try to game the search engine. In a blog post published at the Google Webmaster Blog, Google’s Search Quality Team said any webmaster who repeatedly violated the Google Webmaster Guidelines and gets caught will face “further action” against their sites.

In the post, Google explored how site owners are getting hit with manual penalties, going through the extensive efforts to get the penalty revoked, and immediately going back to their old spammy ways.

However, Google says these people aren’t slipping under the radar like they may think. The Search Quality Team explains even the most subtle changes get picked up by the search engine:

“For example, a webmaster who received a Manual Action notification based on an unnatural link to another site may nofollow the link, submit a reconsideration request, then, after successfully being reconsidered, delete the nofollow for the link.”

These type of shenanigans won’t get anyone on the friendly side of Google, and repeat violators will see further reconsideration requests become harder and harder to earn. While they won’t say exactly what penalties to expect, they also say that sites it determines were deliberately attempting to spam will be hit with “further actions”.

It can sound tempting to try to earn some short-term gains by bending and breaking the rules, but in the long run you are digging your own grave. Google doesn’t forget, and it certainly won’t stop checking on your site after you get a penalty removed. If you want to stay out of trouble, make sure you stay on the right side of the Webmaster Guidelines.

google-red-cardYou would think most guest blog networks would be watching their steps in the wake of the widely talked about penalty levied against MyBlogGuest, but one network named PostJoint has remained steadfast, if not cocky. Unsurprisingly, that means they are the lucky recipient of the second penalty Google is giving to a guest blog network.

Last week, someone tweeted to Matt Cutts that PostJoint had been hit, and it didn’t take Matt long to confirm that action had been taken, stating that “any link or guest blog network that claims to have ‘zero footprints’ is waving a giant red flag.”

When Cutts first began to talk about guest blogging being done for, both PostJoint and MyBlogGuest were outspoken in their defense. The operators of MyBlogGuest tried to argue that they didn’t fit the definition of a guest blog network, and PostJoint tried to explain how they were different from MyBlogGuest after their penalty. Neither defense managed to protect either network.

Perhaps the most entertaining part of the penalty is the response PostJoint has given in their blog titled “Matt Cuts Us Out“. The short story is that PostJoint is confused about the warnings they received while openly admitting that at least 16% of their network received the unnatural links notification.

All of that leads them to conclude: “The fact that only 16% of our sites have been hit shows that Google can’t infact trace all of the sites using PostJoint.” Clearly, PostJoint doesn’t understand how Google’s penalty system works.

Since Google unveiled the Disavow Tool in October of 2012, webmasters and SEOs have treated it almost like a magic cure-all for bad linking decisions, black hat SEO, and any sort of penalty they receive from Google.

Despite the obsession with the Disavow Tool, every online poll of the effectiveness of the tool suggests it isn’t as smooth of a solution as some make it out to be. For example, a poll from Search Engine Roundtable claims that only 13% of webmasters had success using the Disavow Tool.

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Source: Search Engine Roundtable

Of course, Search Engine Roundtable openly admits their polls are far from scientific (you can read their disclaimer here). But, while many are taking these results as proof that the Disavow Tool doesn’t work, it could very well indicate something very different. People seem to just be using the tool wrong a huge amount of the time.

As Barry Schwartz points out, there is no doubt that the Disavow Tool can help remove penalties, but it doesn’t always lead to better rankings. With Google’s constantly changing algorithms, it is impossible to expect to return to the exact positions in the results you were already at.

Not only that, but Google has given very specific instructions for how the Disavow Tool is intended to be used, and experts have been regularly updating their own guides for the tool. But, a lot of webmasters see that they received a penalty of some form and immediately go into panic mode. They mass disavow links, without doing the work to ensure the links were ever the problem.

What do you think? Is the Disavow Tool not reliable, or is the tool being misused?

We try to keep our readers and clients updated with all of Google’s biggest news, whether it be redesigns, guideline changes, or newsworthy penalties. It makes sense, as Google currently receives over half of all searches made every day.

But, even those of us who keep a careful eye on the best guidelines and policy trends of the biggest search engine can end up outright confused by Google occasionally. A story reported by Danny Sullivan yesterday happens to be one of those situations.

Google has been outspoken against guest blogging or guest posts being used “for SEO purposes”, and they have even warned that sites using these questionable guest posts could be subject to penalties. However, the latest story claims that Google has penalized a moderately respected website for a single guest post. Most interesting, the post was published well before the guidelines were put into place and seems to be relevant to the site it was posted on.

The penalty was placed against DocSheldon.com, which is run by Doc Sheldon, a long-time SEO professional. Recently, Sheldon was notified that a penalty was placed against his entire site. The penalty report informed Sheldon that Google determined there were “unnatural links” from his site.

So far, this is the typical penalty put against those who are attempting to run link schemes of some form. But, obviously someone who has been around as long as Sheldon knows better than that. So what were the “unnatural links”?

It took an open letter from Doc Sheldon to Google, which he then tweeted to Matt Cutts, one of Google’s most distinguished engineers, to get some answers.

Cutts mentions one blog post published to Sheldon’s site, which appears to have been written in March 2013.

The post is exactly what the title suggests it would be (“Best Practices for Hispanic Social Networking”), but it contains two links at the end, within the author’s bio. One of the links takes you to the author’s LinkedIn page. The other, however, claims to take people to a “reliable source for Hispanic data”, which leads to a page that appears to be closer to a lead-generation pitch about big data.

Source: Search Engine Land

Source: Search Engine Land

Now, there are a few issues with the link. The page it leads to is suspect, and some would say that the words “Hispanic data” in the anchor text could be potentially too keyword rich. But, Cutts seems to imply that the content of the blog post was as much an issue as the links. As Sullivan puts it, “Apparently, he fired up some tool at Google to take a close look at Sheldon’s site, found the page relating to the penalty and felt that a guest post on Hispanic social networking wasn’t appropriate for a blog post about SEO copywriting.”

That would be a fair criticism, but if you take a closer look at the top of Sheldon’s site, he doesn’t claim the site to be limited to SEO copywriting. In fact, the heading outright states that the site relates to “content strategy, SEO copywriting, tools, tips, & tutorials”. You may take note that social practices for any demographic could certainly be relevant to the topic of content strategy.

So, as the story stands, Google has levied a large penalty against an entire site for a single blog post with one questionable link, all because they decided it wasn’t on-topic. Does that mean Google is now the search police, judge, and jury? Sadly, it appears so for the moment. Little appears to have changed since the story broke yesterday. DocSheldon.com is still dealing with the penalties, and Google hasn’t backed down one bit since the penalty was sent.

It goes without saying, the events have sparked a large amount of debate in the SEO community, especially following the widely followed penalty placed against the guest blog network MyBlogGuest. The wide majority agree this penalty seems questionable, but for the moment it appears it is best to stay under the radar by following Google’s policies to the letter. Hopefully they will become a bit more consistent with their penalties in the meantime.

Late last week the SEO community had a good laugh at the expense of a self-proclaimed SEO expert who openly tweeted at major brands about renewing link buys. It appears the links were initially bought through iAcquire shortly before the service was penalized for participating in link buying schemes, and now that they are expiring, a former client is attempting to reach out directly to the link buyers.

The conversation that caught the eye of the SEO community was a long and outright discussion between “Vince” (@VitaliyKolosWDL) and T-Mobile. Search Engine Roundtable managed to screenshot the entire conversation before T-Mobile wisely began deleting their responses. Interestingly, “Vince” hasn’t deleted any of his tweets despite openly talking about selling links and even linking to the page being used to sell links.

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Obviously, if the SEO media noticed the conversation, it didn’t take it long to reach Matt Cutts from Google, who probably summed up the situation in the shortest way possible:

Cutts wasn’t the only member of the webspam team to notice, either. Brian White also tweeted at “Vince” with a mocking photo of himself using an Android cookie jar like a phone.

While the person tweeting to companies hasn’t deleted anything, it does appear their website has been penalized already. It took five days since the first tweets started to appear, but unsurprisingly Web Design Library has tumbled down the search results. Search Engine Watch says the site was appearing on the 8th page on a search for [web design] on Monday, but come Tuesday the site didn’t pop up until the 48th page of results.

If you haven’t gotten the notice that selling links can get you in trouble, take this opportunity to look up the numerous other sites that have learned the hard way. Google is treating both those who buy and sell links harshly, and they show no sign of stopping. If “Vince” was as educated in SEO as he claimed, he would have already known this and he definitely wouldn’t have been using an open forum like Twitter to talk about it.